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Detroit

Page history last edited by Forgive To Give Project 11 years, 6 months ago

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"The Garden of Forgiveness at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center in Detroit is designed to encourage reflection."

 

-From Cassandra Spratling's article in the Detroit Free Press

September 24, 2008

 

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080924/FEATURES01/809240313

 

Families find the power of forgiveness

 

BY CASSANDRA SPRATLING

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

 

A year ago this month, 2-year-old Jakobi Ra Harris was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

 

But Tuesday, rather than mourn the anniversary of his death, his parents Shamayim Shu-Harris, 42, and James Harris, 43, celebrated Jakobi's life with a fund-raiser to help build a safe place for children to play in Highland Park.

 

Almost immediately after his death the Harrises began to think of ways to honor their son and to forgive the man now serving jail time in connection with his death.

 

Shamayim and James Harris thought of a park because their son was outside playing when he was hit -- he was crossing the street holding hands with his older brother -- and because there are few playgrounds in Highland Park. Jakobi Ra Park will be built on Avalon Street.

 

Forgiving and focusing on the park is a productive way to honor Jakobi, the Harrises say.

 

"I've seen what holding on to sadness and anger does to people," says Shamayim Harris, a school administrator who also runs the Moon Ministry, a nonprofit outreach for women. "I'm not saying it doesn't hurt; it hurts every day. Every day, I think about my son. If I held onto the stuff that hurts I wouldn't be able to do work in the community."

 

Forgiveness is not just some squishy, feel-good notion. There's a growing body of scientific research that says whether done publicly or privately in relationships between people, forgiveness has the power to heal, and to help.

 

"People who hold hurts can hurt themselves physically as well as emotionally," says Bernadette Beach, a nurse and stress management educator at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center of Detroit. "Forgiving impacts people's physical wellness."

 

Research from the International Forgiveness Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison supports Beach's contention.

 

Forgiveness has been proven to reduce and eliminate clinical depression and anxiety and increase people's sense of hope and self-esteem, says Robert Enright, professor of educational psychology at the university and author of "Forgiveness Is a Choice," (American Psychological Association, $19.95).

 

A report set to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychology and Health shows that a group of veterans being treated for cardiac problems who underwent forgiveness therapy improved their heart health, resulting in less risk for sudden death and heart pain, Enright says.

 

"The scientific evidence that forgiveness helps is not just growing, it's exploding," Enright says.

 

In Detroit, a Garden of Forgiveness was dedicated and blessed this past Sunday. The spacious, well-manicured lawn circled with newly paved walkways offers a picturesque portrait of peace behind the Retreat Center. The serene setting is a striking contrast to the busy I-96 service drive nearby -- a green oasis in a region coping with betrayal, political turmoil and racial and economic strife.

 

Catholic sisters from the Dominican Center for Religious Development and priests and staff at the Retreat Center created the place where people of all faiths can come to meditate, to reflect, to forgive.

 

Enright is featured in a documentary called "The Power of Forgiveness" that is part of a film series that will run through March at the Retreat Center.

 

For metro Detroiters, the message of forgiveness is right on time. The notion is relevant to helping the city and wider metropolitan area -- which has a variety of religions, races and ethnicities -- unite, said Father Jim Thoman, priest and director of the Retreat Center.

 

"We hear people reflecting on the tensions about different groups in metro Detroit," Thoman says. "We are working to get past the past. All of us have a stake in what happens in this community."

 

The idea for the Garden of Forgiveness began after one of the Dominican sisters saw a magazine article about the documentary.

 

The sisters are always looking for ways to make spiritual lessons real and relevant to people's lives, says Joanne Podlucky, one of those who started the garden. "We often hear stories of people who either can't forgive themselves for something they've done or they can't forgive others, yet they feel this need to forgive," she says.

 

A variety of plants, flowers and trees will bloom there all year.

 

The garden, like the center itself, will be a place where all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, are welcome.

 

Forgiving works on both community-wide levels, like the park and the garden, and on personal levels.

 

Joyce Terrell of Detroit says she's familiar with the physical pain that results when you don't forgive. She and one of her sisters stopped speaking after a silly disagreement.

 

"We used to talk every day, and when we weren't talking it ate on my insides," says Terrell, 49, a supervisor at General Motors. "It was like I had an upset stomach. You know how you feel your heart is racing. You know, even physically, that you're not right."

 

A few days after they stopped speaking, one of their brothers died and Terrell knew what she had to do -- she called her sister and visited her a couple days later.

 

"I asked her to forgive me, and we both agreed life is too short," Terrell says.

 

"I told her I felt like I'd lost two of my best friends," says Terrell, who has six other siblings. "We both agreed it was childish and stupid of us and not worth us hurting the way we were both hurting."

 

Contact CASSANDRA SPRATLING at 313-223-4580 or cspratling@freepress.com.

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